In 2008 the Indians' Travis Hafner struggled through the worst year of his career.
Limited by a shoulder injury, Hafner appeared in only 57 games, hitting .197/.305/.323 with only 5 HRs and 24 RBI while striking out almost twice as much as he walked.
These numbers were a far cry from the Hafner of 2004-06 who averaged .308/.419/.611 with 34 HR, 111 RBI, 96 R, and 38 2Bs a year as one of the league's most best hitters.
However, his injury-plagued 2008 coming on the heels of a sub-par 2007 (.266/.385/.451, 24 HR, 100 RBI) have led many to question whether he can regain his old form, or even his diminished 2007 output. However, through the first week and a half of the season, it is becoming clear that he is capable of hitting like the Pronk of old.
Although the Indians have been cautiously giving him a day or two off each week to avoid re-injuring his shoulder, Hafner's play in 2009 has given hope to Tribe fans that he can again be a force in the middle of the lineup.
Although he has struck out a bit too much and his average has only been between .250 and .290 for most of the year, he already has three homers, three doubles, and seven RBI in his first seven games.
More importantly, he has been driving the ball all season, including a number of hard-hit balls to left, something he did well through 2006 but has been missing from his game the last two years. He has yet to look like the continually locked-in Pronk of old, but he has been consistent all year, getting a hit in six of seven games, a walk in five, and a RBI in four.
Although it's early, and it would be foolish to say that Hafner is again one of the best hitters in the game, the early returns are promising, and I look for the big man from North Dakota to have a big year as the Indians try to make it back to the playoffs in 2009.